Monday, August 31, 2015

Fantasia Catch-Up #03: Wonderful World End, He Never Died, Some Kind of Hate, Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen, The Interior, Robbery, Fatal Frame, Minuscule, La La La at Rock Bottom, and Big Match

Wait, have I really gotten ten reviews (plus two more that were actually in theaters last week posted in five days? That's absurd efficiency on my part, even considering that these are second-pass reviews, where I'm basically taking the two to four paragraphs I wrote during the festival and adding three or four more to fill it out. Maybe this won't stretch on forever!

Part of the thing about doing these second-pass ones, though, is that there's not a whole lot to comment on it this "experiential" part of the blog entry - that pretty much got handled at the time. But a few things did occur to me:

First: He Never Died is a better, more interesting movie about this sort of immortality than the much-praised Only Lovers Left Alive. Now, granted, a large part of this is personal preference - you show me one movie where these immortal blood-suckers are annoyed at being shot in the head because they get migraines when their skull heals around the bullet and one where they talk about their favorite music, and I will always choose the first one. Even putting that aside, I think Jason Krawczyk digs into the sense of isolation that long, parasitic life would create than Jim Jarmusch did, and creates interesting situations.

Second: Though I saw them back-to-back, I didn't really catch that both Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen and The Interior were both movies about people who chose to go out on their own terms. It's not a perfect comparison - the guy in The Interior seems to be trying to hide his decline more than affirmatively showing who he is - but it makes for an interesting double feature,in retrospect.

Third: I joked about starting a contest on eFilmCritic about who could put more swipes at Olivier Megaton into seemingly unrelated reviews, and there's one in the review for Robbery. Sometimes, it comes esy.

Fourth: In the time between writing the original capsule review for Minuscule and the full one, I went from "I'm going to give this to one of my nieces" to "I gave it to one of my nieces for her birthday." No word, yet, on whether or not she and her sister liked it, although I've yet to have Dan & Lara tell me to stop giving their daughters French animated films as presents.

Next up: The big Sion Sono triple play!

Wandafuru warudo endo (Wonderful World End)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

As soon as I saw this one, I figured that it may need some mulling over, although more for its downright peculiar ending than the occasional sense that as someone who is not a teenage Japanese girl, this film is mostly - and fairly - indifferent to me. Wonderful World End gets outright weird in its last act, although I'm sure that a fair number of adults will find it difficult to relate to well before that. It's at least interesting for that and gets the bulk of its ideas across, which isn't always the case.

It is, after all, the story of two teenage girls, Shiori (Ai Hashimoto) extremely confident in her appearance and trying to be a model/actress/idol and Ayumi (Jun Aonami) a 13-year-old fan who runs away from home to meet up with the older girl. A weird sort of jealousy develops when Ayumi is taken in by Shiori's boyfriend Kohei (Yu Inaba), but as things progress, the obsessive fandom has interesting effects on the entire trio.

The phenomenon of "idol stars" is hardly unique to Japan - variations of the term have been used around the world from the earliest matinee idols to Pop Idol and its American spinoff - but that sort of obsessive fandom seems to be most codified and accepted there. Stories about would-be stars getting tangled up with individuals from their small fandoms aren't new either, but writer/director Daigo Matsui does a fine job here of taking advantage of how twenty-first century social media heightens those real and imagined bonds by encouraging interactivity where before there was a buffer, or encouraging people to think of each other as "friends" and "followers". He's not the first to do so, but he does much better than usual at examining the concept without stating this as a goal or treating it as shocking or unusual.

Full review on EFC.

He Never Died

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Somehow, when I was looking at this movie's description, the idea that it was a deadpan comedy (although the blackest you can imagine) never came through, which made it an extremely pleasant surprise. Or perhaps it's not "a deadpan comedy", but a supernatural noir that happens to be full of the stuff. It's the rare movie that is both what you would and would not expect.

The big draw is Henry Rollins playing Jack, a blood-drinking immortal who doesn't quite fit in with traditional v-word lore, but who has been trying to keep it on the straight and narrow, although that is accomplished in large part by doing nothing. He has one vegetarian meal at the local diner a day, kind of oblivious to how waitress Cara (Kate Greenhouse) looks at him, and gets his blood from a hospital intern (Booboo Stewart). Today, though, a former lover that he vaguely remembers hating has called to say that he has a daughter, Andrea (Jordan Todosey), and she's gone looking for him. He's not sure why this is his problem, but pulling her out of whatever trouble she's in seems like the shortest path back to being left alone.

Though there are a great many other things about this film that are nicely done, Rollins's performance as Jack is easily the best, and writer/director Jason Krawczyk seems to have caught him at just the right time: Muscular but middle-aged, Rollins gives off the impression of being world-weary despite it being impossible for him to actually be worn down, with a voice that is kind of rough but also clear and authoritative. Rollins has a great handle on how Jack has made himself passive in order to keep people safe but has lost any connection with those people in doing so. This could play as somber, but when Jack is forced to deal with the world around him because his relatively recent past catches up with him, his social atrophy and utter lack of reaction to what would be threatening situations for normal humans is terrifically funny, apparently even more so for those used to Rollins as a loud, forceful heavy metal musician. Rollins gets big laughs for not flinching, using the bare minimum number of words, or just ending a conversation when it no longer interests Jack, and when he does get stirred to action, there's danger to it both from how casual he is and how there is rage to him, both at his long life and how this violence is a natural instinct.

Full review on EFC.

Some Kind of Hate

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Is it wrong to kind of hope that a pretty great horror movie perhaps stalls out at cult favorite? Some Kind of Hate is a strong, smart, bloody example of what the genre can do when its aims are greater than just churning out product, and it introduces what could be an iconic horror villain as great as the ones spawned in the 1980s. That's the rub, though - I really, really don't want to see Moira Karp reduced to what the likes of Freddy Kruger, Jason Vorhees, and Michael Myers became in pop culture.

She's not the focus of the prologue - that's Lincoln Taggert (Ronen Rubinstein), bullied at home and school, and finally snapping in a way that leaves his tormentor maimed. That's why he's the one who gets shipped to a camp in the middle of the desert where troubled kids can work out their issues. His roommate Isaac (Spencer Breslin) lashed out via hacking, while former cheerleader Kaitlin (Grace Phipps) attempted suicide. Of course, there are a fair number of bullies at the camp not about to let Lincoln get too comfortable, no matter what leader Jack Iverson (Michael Polish) and graduate-cum-staffer Christine (Lexi Atkins) say, most notably Willie (Maestro Harrell). Oh, and there's Moira (Sierra McCormick), killed at the camp a few years back but still haunting the place. She wants to help Lincoln with his problems.

Moira is the best supernatural slasher to come around in years, in part because she is brilliantly conceived visually - pink kitty t-shirt combined with a necklace of razor blades, inflicting damage by cutting herself and making others feel her own pain. You could see that popping up again and again in a number of sequels. Of course, for that to happen, they'd have to recast, because part of what makes Moira so great is that she is very clearly a teenager who doesn't wear a mask or (often) speak with a distorted voice, and Sierra McCormick is going to grow out of this role, so good luck matching that. She is fantastic, tinging Moira's madness with something deserving of empathy. She and filmmaker Adam Egypt Mortimer make Moira a monster whose motivation is all too easy to understand - that is to say, the best kind.

Full review on EFC.

Ryûzô to 7 nin no kobun tachi (Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Takeshi Kitano's name is well-enough known in American boutique-house circles for certain things - mournful cop movies, violent yakuza fare, self-referential and deconstructive comedies - that Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen almost throws one for a loop. It's a small, silly comedy that in some ways plays as a mixture of those things by puncturing yakuza film stereotypes and pushing them into the past, but it's also very mainstream, positioned less as artistic satire than a movie about goofy old people.

The goofy old person of the title used to be known as "Ryuzo the Demon" (Tatsuya Fuji), though he's a senior citizen now, reduced to housesitting for his son Ryuhei (Masanobu Katsumura), a salaryman who insists his father wear long-sleeved shirts even in the warmest weather so that he won't embarrass them in front of the neighbors with his gang tattoos. Bored, he and his longtime friend Masa (Masaomi Kondo), a gambler, decide to get into contact with other old compatriots - con artist mokichi (Akira Nakao), gunslinger "Mac" (Toru Shinagawa), Taka "The Razor Slasher" (Ken Yoshizawa), Hide "The 6-Inch Nail" (Kojun Ito), swordsman Ichizio (Ben Hiura), and later Yasu "The Kamikaze" (Akira Onodera), now an activist - to form a new gang. Not that anyone, from the city's other criminal organizations to the businesses they're trying to shake down for protection money.

Kitano is getting up there himself, so while this is not exactly the inward-looking satire of Takeshis' and Glory to the Filmmaker!, there is probably more of this movie than he'd like to admit that comes from his own experience of growing older and no longer being cool and dangerous like you used to be. He and his elderly cast (including himself as a detective who maybe harbors a certain fondness for these old-school retirees) happily dive into the indignities of aging and trying to be both intimidating and honorable as life removes them as options; the jokes about the elderly are not exactly new material, but Kitano still has a few surprises in store, and is good at minding the line between being amused by an elderly person's foibles and outright mocking them - Kitano is mostly making a movie about yakuza who have become old men rather than old men trying to be yakuza, so when the jokes feel natural rather than like broad satire.

Full review on EFC.

The Interior

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

The Interior seemingly starts as an one thing and stays that way for roughly the first third, when the title comes up, the scene shifts, and the main character re-appears with a new look and direction, as if to say that now the movie begins after the backstory. It is, really, a clever way to split the film up, even if it's going to be a bit of time before the film gets where it's going.

As it starts, James (Patrick McFadden) is an office drone and hates it. It's funny at first - he responds to the idiotic situations with the kind of sarcasm that is career-limiting in real life, and when he eventually moves to something a little more honest and less soul-destroying, the audience is inclined to root for him a bit even if it's also alarming. Eventually, though, he finds out just how much worse it can be, and that's when opts to leave Toronto behind and go for an extended camping trip in British Columbia, even if he's never been one for nature before.

And so The Interior becomes a middle-of-the-woods horror movie, with the twist being that James is apparently craving isolation in this phase of his life, and it's the possibility of human contact that has him jumpy, and not necessarily because it's dangerous. It's not quite an inversion of the usual set-up, but the difference in motivation and a set-up that doesn't leave much room for the supernatural gets the audience to react a bit differently to scenes which offer jumps or mysteries differently, making things both more engrossing and uneasy. Writer/director Trevor Juras seems more determined than usual to earn a viewer's reaction, so that even the moments where he's pushing buttons aren't just getting programmed responses.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Robbery is one of several movies in the festival that I didn't expect to be nearly as funny as it wound up being, and unlike He Never Died, this is full-out anything goes material, going for the big laugh at every opportunity and mostly getting them, even if this is a very crude, violent Hong Kong comedy and some bits are in questionable taste. Well, actually, no, not questionable - this film is tacky through and through.

The place being robbed is a convenience store where lifelong loser Lau Kin-ping (Derek Tsang Kwok-cheung) has just started working, though neither he nor his co-worker Mabel (J. Arie) is exactly a model employee - though to be fair, their boss (Lam Suet) is more than a bit of a tool. It's the latter's crappy service that leads to a cranky, homeless-seeming old guy (Stanley Fung Sui-fan) holding up the store, leading to a hostage situation that is only exacerbated by the arrival of a corrupt cop and his team, a nervous woman who looks like she just ended a shift at the strip club (Anita Cui Pik-ka), her gangster boyfriend, and more, with the whole situation becoming even more absurd and explosive as the night goes on.

Writer/director Lee Ka-wing is credited as "Fire" Lee, and he does more to earn that kind of appellation than, say, Olivier Megaton. He is not the kind of filmmaker who believes in standing quietly back so that the audience can view the film like a real thing unfolding before their eyes, but one who is going to take detours into fantasy, flashbacks, and fourth-wall breaking. From the opening credits forward, he's making sure that if, for some reason, the actual events of the film aren't grabbing the audience's attention, the style will, from how lighting a cigarette will take a scene from noir to garish neon to hitting rewind.

Full review on EFC.

Gekijô-ban: Zero (Fatal Frame)

* * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

The festival program indicates that this film and the game Fatal Frame were based upon the same book, although the credits indicate that the book was based upon the game before being adapted into this film, but those specifics don't really matter. What's important is that screenwriter/director Mari Asato doesn't really make a good film, but does make something that's a little more striking than the usual product getting churned out.

I kind of suspect that a lot of the film's problems could be fixed by ripping about a half hour out to get it down to 75-80 minutes, and you could do it right up front, as there's a merry-go-round where it seems like three girls at a convent school who will never actually be important declare their love for classmate Aya Tsukimori (Ayami Nakajo), kiss her photograph at midnight, and vanish. Aya has been hiding in her dorm room since having a prophetic dream of her own death, though she eventually comes out to help Michi Kazato (Aoi Morikawa) investigate the curse that only affects girls. This school seems to have a lot of secrets, both spooky and conventional.

Aside from the opening sequence, there are also a pair of psychic investigators that could go later on, they're the sort of characters that appear in films that have been translated from other media, especially games, that have strong followings willing to make noise if something has been left out. If that's the case, it at least works in a way once things have started moving; Asato builds her film as a supernatural mystery, and these extraneous elements serve tolerably as red herrings. It's far from a perfect compromise - indeed, the script often seems to go in completely random, laughable directions.

Full review on EFC.

Minuscule - La vallée des fourmis perdues

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP with Xpand 3D)

One of the most enjoyable parts of this festival (and movie-going in general) over the past few years has been finding kid-friendly movies that brothers and sisters-in-law would deem okay for their girls despite never having heard of the things. Minuscule was, hopefully, a big success on that account - I just gave one niece a copy for her fifth birthday, and I can't see how the whole group of cousins don't love it.

It's apparently a spin-off of a set of shorts by Hélène Giraud (who dedicates the film to her late father Jean aka Moebius) & Thomas Szabo, although it is very easy to go in cold - the hero is actually a newborn at the start of the film, a just-hatched ladybug that gets left behind, unable to fly as fast as his/her siblings(*). Speaking of birth, a pair of humans leave an entire picnic behind as the pregnant wife goes into labor, and among the insects that quickly come to scavenge it are a troop of black ants who find a whole basket full of sugar that they mean to take back to their formicary. The ladybug tags along, but it's a long way over uneven terrain and a stream, with a group of red ants determined to to take the prize for themselves.

(*) It's worth noting that none of the characters in this movie are specifically gendered beyond the egg-laying ant queens, so if you tell kids that their favorite character is a boy or girl, they'd have to do some research on insect behavior to tell you otherwise.

Full review on EFC.

Misono Universe (La La La at Rock Bottom)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The latest from the director of Linda Linda Linda is another charmer about someone finding friends and himself (this time) through music, although its appeal won't be limited to the too-small audiences who have seen the former. It's a different sort of movie, after all, more focused upon redemption than coming of age, but still a very appealing comedy.

"Pooch" (Subaru Shibutani) starts off close to a blank slate, bursting into a wedding with retrograde amnesia and grabbing the mike to sing a song before his concussion makes him lose consciousness again. The band's manager and mixer Kasumi Sato (Fumi Nikaido) winds up taking him in, although she'll later learn that this stray isn't necessarily entirely tame - his current state is the result of the folks who picked him up upon his release from jail knocking him out and tossing him out of the car.

Director Nobuhiro Yamashita and writer Tomoe Kanno have fun with the amnesia trope - none of the characters seem to believe that it's a thing that actually happens in real life, and are actually excited to see it. Little things like that make it seem like the filmmakers are well aware that their story is more than a bit unlikely, both in the broad strokes and the details, and they have a very firm handle on that - there's room for some very goofy material, but there's always a sense that this situation weighs heavily on Pooch. The movie is funny throughout, but doesn't trivialize anything.

Full review on EFC.

Bigmaechi (Big Match)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

Big Match is really a mess, the sort of movie which starts from a decent action-movie premise and sort of has the right idea about what to do with it, but could use a lot more commitment. Yes, this is mainly a way to get the hero from one action scene to another without a lot of fuss, but imagine how much more exciting it could be if it was tightened up and really thrilling?

It starts out by introducing Choi Iko (Lee Jung-jae), who started his athletic career as a soccer player but wound up becoming a mixed-martial arts fighter known as "zombie" for after being booted from the league, trained by his big brother Yeong-ho (Lee Sung-min). Iko's next match is postponed when his opponent tests positive for drugs, but he's going to be busy: His promoter is killed with Yeong-ho the prime suspect, although there's enough suggesting Iko's involvement for the police to bring him in. That's where he's given a headset and told to escape by "Ace" (Sin Ha-kyun), who operates a top-secret gambling cartel where the elite can bet on how well folks like Iko can evade capture.

Here's a funny thing about action movies that aren't actually built around their stars' screen-fighting capabilities: The quality of the action can often drop off over the course of the movie as it ramps up in scale. For instance, the early bits of Iko trying to escape from rooms full of cops without actually hurting anyone not only have a sort of Jackie Chan feeling to how nimble and whimsical they are, but they're shot clearly and cleverly and give Lee a chance to display a lot of personality in the middle of a fight. What comes after gets bigger but is seldom as well-shot as those - the bigger action scenes have more moving parts, whether it be waves of goons or special effects, and the bigger set-pieces threaten to swallow Iko. They're still plenty fun - director Choi Ho and his co-writers do escalate well and come up with some creative ideas - but each one is a little less exciting than the last, making them feel a little bit more disappointing than they are.

Full review on EFC.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sinister 2

Sinister had a generic name, especially since there was already something called "Insidious" out there, and I've probably been making comments about how I'm not sure which series I've seen ever since there was just one of each. When I saw that both had an entry scheduled for this summer, I was legitimately confused.

I suspect that even if it were the other way around - if I'd seen the previous Insidious movies but missed Sinister - I might have gone for this anyway, because it always tickles me to see someone whose work I'd seen at genre festivals like Ciarán Foy get a chance to do something bigger. this one doesn't seem to have been much of a hit - it got steamrolled by Straight Outta Compton like everything else and was one of three disappointing premieres last week - but it seems like Foy already has a new job lined up, one which will take him back to doing something distinctly Irish. Who knows, maybe being able to put "from the director of Sinister 2" on that, what with it being a known studio product, will help it get an audience faster that one might expect.

One other kind of funny thing: Universal released this under the Gramercy label, which I can't remember them using for years, complete with a new logo and everything. I haven't seen any indication that they're going to use it as a more indie label or anything going forward, and I kind of wonder if it's something the Blumhouse production company is doing to keep their name the one people remember when they partner with larger studios. Heck, they're releasing a movie with Orion soon, and I don't think that's been a going concern for decades.

I wound up seeing this after Drunken Master at Films at the Gate, but went up the orange line to see it at Assembly Row because it started fifteen minutes earlier, and thus would likely end fifteen minutes earlier, getting me home and in bed early enough not to be totally sleep deprived the next morning when I had stuff to do on the way to my niece's birthday party. I should have timed the distance from Downtown Crossing to Assembly Row so that I can make that decision with data in the future.

Sinister 2

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 August 2015 in AMC Assembly Row #9 (first-run, DCP)

I wonder if, when building horror movies like Sinister, the writers ever stop and think that a premise would be easy to reuse, so that if a film is even a modest success, sequels could be made without being tied to the original cast and a steady stream of royalty income will come their way even if whatever they do after moving on tanks and they can't get hired. That may not necessarily be what led to Sinister 2, but it might have been - same basic idea, new family to prey upon. It's not quite so exciting as a result, but there are things to recommend it.

The new family is named Collins, with mother Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) and sons Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) and Zachary (Dartanian Sloan) trying to keep a low profile as her abusive ex-husband Clint (Lea Coco) is doing all he can to reclaim custody of the boys. That's why she's staying in a vacant farmhouse which nobody wants any part of due to the ritualistic murder that happened in the church that's also on the property. The latest private detective to show up (James Ransone) wasn't hired by Clint, though - he was the deputy who helped Ellison Oswalt with his research in the previous film, and he's been driven to investigate that sort of killing ever since that case left him shaken. Courtney and her kids being in the house throws a monkey wrench into his plans, and he doesn't even know about the ghost children that Dylan has been seeing.

Those ghosts are the ones introducing Dylan to a cache of home movies that end in grisly family annihilations, and there's a sense that returning writers Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill recognize that this is a bit old-hat the second time around, with the home movies getting name-checked asbeing a thing associated with evil entity Bughuul by a scientist (Tate Ellington) who bristles at being called "the new Jonas", referencing the previous movie's expert on the paranormal. It's not close to full-on winking at the camera, but between it and a bit where "Deputy So-and-So" seeks advice from a priest, there's an odd sort of taking the supernatural premise for granted.

Full review on EFC.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Memories of the Sword

I mentioned it in the preview post, but the scheduling for this at Boston Common really ticks me off. You're either coming in very early or staying up very late for this one, and as you can see from the 2am posting time here, I'm staying up very late.

Not a bad movie at all, though Well Go sliding it into the slot where the Weinstein Company and Netflix were previously going to release Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2 really does highlight how similar this seems to the first Crouching Tiger on a superficial level. It's an odd coincidence, but the story thankfully goes to its own place.

Impressive cast on it, too. I was kind of amused by how the previews I saw in theaters highlighted Lee Byung-hun's English-language work, especially with Terminator Genisys given prominent space. Man, was he wasted in that. On the other hand, Kim Go-eun had Coin Locker Girl specified, and it doesn't look like that's available in the US yet, nor is anything else she's done. Crying shame, that, because she's kind of great here, and her other movies at the very least look interesting. I also remember quite liking Jeon Do-yeon in The Housemaid.

Based on previews, it looks like a relatively quiet few weeks for Asian films coming up, so yo might as well catch this. It's not perfect, but it's not bad either, and the quick import (it started playing Korea just a couple of weeks ago) is appreciated.

Hyubnyeo: Kalui Kieok (Memories of the Sword)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 August 2015 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

A sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was supposed to open on Imax screens this weekend, but that seems to have fallen into some bizarre limbo. As South Korea's Memories of the Sword begins, one might naturally think that this Korean film fills the gap rather precisely. Despite the strong surface resemblance, it's not the modern classic that Crouching Tiger is, but it knits its melodramatic pieces into something quite enjoyable by the end.

It starts off by introducing the audience to Hong-yi (Kim Go-eun), an exuberant peasant girl with gravity-defying swordfighting skills, who upon leaping over the garden's highest sunflower races into town to challenge Yool (Lee Jun-ho), the local champion in the combat games presided over by General Yu-baek (Lee Byung-hun), capturing a bit more attention than she probably should. That's why when she returns home, her blind foster mother Wol-su (Jeon Do-yeon) gives her a dressing down - she has not raised and trained Hong-yi since infancy just for fun, but so that she can, upon turning twenty, kill two people, traitors from the day when "The Three Great Swords" - her father Pung-chun and lovers Sul-rang and Duk-gi, fought their last battle.

There are lies in that description. There have to be, as the screenplay by director Park Heung-sik and co-writer Choi Ah-reum is built on deception, secret identities, and other things that would genuinely qualify as spoilers if the early scenes of this movie were described honestly. Piling deception and revelation on top of one another like that has brought many, many films to the brink of collapse, but Memories of the Sword seems to tacitly acknowledge that this setup is the work of people not in their right minds, so warped by greed, guilt, and rage that their true selves are hidden not just as a practical thing but as an almost natural response to their corruption. By the end, it makes an odd kind of sense, and the operatic sweep of the story has a very appealing grandeur.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 28 August 2015 - 3 September 2015

End of summer, another quiet week, with Fenway still at half-strength, Jordan's Reading closed, not much of interest opening... And the thing I want to see is still playing at crappy times.

  • Well, one of the things I want to see, because the Asian Community Development Center's Films at the Gate returns to the Rose Kennedy Greenway with a greatest hits sort of lineup - Shaolin Soccer on Friday, Drunken Master on Saturday, and Iron Monkey (starring local hero Donnie Yen) on Sunday. Movies are at 8pm, with lion dancing, martial arts demonstrations, and other cultural presentations at seven.
  • There's a fair amount of turnover at Kendall Square this week, with Isabel Coixet's Learning to Drive the most prominent - it stars Patricia Clarkson as a suddenly-single writer who takes driving lessons from an Indian emigre (Ben Kingsley) as a way to assert her freedom; it also plays Boston Common. The other fiction film opening there is the latest from Joe Swanberg, Digging for Fire, with Jake Johnson and Rosemarie DeWitt as a couple who discover a human bone and a gun at the house where they are staying.

    Both documentaries opening will have guests in attendance: Director Aviva Kempner will visit on Friday (and Saturday morning) to introduce Rosenwald, which looks at the legacy of one of the founders of Sears-Roebuck, who did an immense deal to help create schools for African-Americans in the South in the early parts of the twentieth century. Saturday, filmmakers Chai Vasarhelyi & Renan Ozturk will be there to discus Meru, they're on-the-spot look at attempts to scale one of the world's most hazardous cliff faces.
  • The West Newton Cinema also opens Meru, along with Z for Zachariah, a last-woman-on-earth scenario with Margot Robbie as a survivor who discovers two other men (Chiwetel Ejiofor & Chris Pine).
  • Otherwise, it's quiet enough that We Are Your Friends is one of the bigger openings, playing at Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. It stars Zac Efron as an up-and-coming DJ in Hollywood, getting tangled with an older mentor (Wes Bentley) and his younger girlfriend (Emily Ratajkowski). No Escape arrived on Wednesday in most places, and has Owen Wilson and Lake Bell as new arrivals to an Asian country where a coup is about to occur. Good thing we're getting the white-guy perspective on that story! It's at the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Revere, and the Superlux. Boston Common and Revere also open War Room which seems to suggest that precisely planned prayer is better than actually doing something.

    Boston Common aso splits a screen between a couple more smaller films. Going to America (aka "Last Supper") gets the better time slots for its story of two escaped mental patients (Eddie Griffin & Josh Meyers) trying to make a movie. Early and late, there are screenings of Memories of the Sword featuring Lee Byun-hun as as a medieve swordfighter who can hold one heck of a grudge. They also keep Go Away Mr. Tumor around for one nightly show. They and Assembly Row also bring Jurassic World back to their Imax screens.
  • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond also has an indie film at crappy times, theirs being Zipper, with Patrick Wilson as a guy who can't keep his closed and thus risks losing his family. They also open a big, subtitled Bollywood political thriller, Phantom featuring Saif Ali Khan and Katrina Kaif, along with unsubtitled Tamil action movie Thani Oruvan and Kannada thriller Uppi 2
  • No new releases at The Coolidge Corner Theatre this week, but a fair number of special presentations. Start with the Friday & Saturday midnights, which includes a 35mm print of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior downstairs and the "Twillerama" animation festival upstairs. Then on Monday, "Big Screen Classics" continues with a 35mm print of The Last Picture Show. On Thursday, they present Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night as part of "Stage & Screen" with the Huntington Theater Company, which is mounting A Little Night Music.
  • The Brattle Theatre plays host to the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival for much of Friday and Saturday. That doesn't last quite all day, though, so there will be a double feature of Alien & Aliens on Saturday evening and all day Sunday, with the latter playing the late show Friday.

    After that, the "vertical" summer rep programs wrap up, with 35mm prints of The Philadelphia Story & Holiday wrapping up Screwball Summer in fine style, while Wednesday's Recent Rave is A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence and Thursday's Nuri Bilge Ceylan presentation is Winter Sleep.
  • The Harvard Film Archive finishes their summer rep series, too: The last two Titanus Studios films are Family Diary (Friday 7pm) and Who Is Without Sin (Saturday 9:15pm); the Robert Altman pictures are Dr. T and the Women (Friday 9:15pm, with 1966 short "Girl Talk"), Nightmare in Chicago (Sunday 5pm on 16mm), and Come back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (Monday 7pm); and Samuel Fuller is represented by Shock Corridor (Saturday 7pm) and Tigero: A Film That Was Never Made (Sunday 7pm), in which Finnish filmmaker Mika Kaurismaki has Fuller revisit a project that fell through despite a great deal of early development. All are 35mm unless otherwise indicated.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has the back half of their run of We Come as Friends, Hubert Sauper's documentary on present-day Sudan, on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Alongside, the September schedule starts with The Great Man (Wednesday & Thursday) kicking off a series of New French Cinema, while The New Rijksmuseum plays the same days and examines the long renovation of one of the Netherlands' most prominent museums.
  • Free outdoor screenings on Joe's Calendar are winding down, with multiple screenings of Maleficent, the Boston Harbor Hotel showing The Apartment on Friday, and Bloc 11 running Space Jam on Monday.

Got a little girl's birthday to hit on Sunday, but around that, I'm going to try for Memories of the Sword, Z for Zachariah, and Sinister 2, along with hitting up Drunken Master for Films at the Gate. Then I've really got to get to Mr. Holmes and Straight Outta Compton at the very least.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Fantasia Catch-Up #02: 100 Yen Love, The Royal Tailor, Momentum, The Master Plan, On the White Planet, Tales of Halloween, The Ninja War of Torakage, Princess Jellyfish, Deadman Inferno, and Bunny the Killer Thing

Trying to pull ahead of the one-month line and not quite managing to do so. Of course, the really scary thing is that there's six months of other stuff backed up behind this.

It is somewhat interesting to see what that (currently) 32-day-gap does to one's opinions of movies, especially looking at the star ratings. For instance, I remember much less of the bits of Bunny the Killer Thing that I enjoyed but all of the icky feeling, so that got downgraded. Deadman Inferno comes together a lot better now that I'm not trying to keep track of all that was going on but have allowed it to settle, making me wonder whether my tendency to take notes in festival screenings, especially those where I have a press pass, is too much of a distraction, or if my brain is just not built for the sort of rapid turnaround that "covering" a festival at internet speed requires.

Ah, well. At least I'm not going to Fantastic Fest this year, so I won't feel pressed for time on that end - I used up my "other festival/travel vacation" time back in May for SFSFF, and a bit more for moving, but right now the only self-imposed deadline I'm staring down (I think) is Love & Peace before it screens in Austin.

On to the next batch!

Hyakuen no koi (100 Yen Love)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2015 in the J.A. de Sève Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Sakura Ando wears some baggy clothes toward the start of 100 Yen Love, because she's actually fairly attractive but this is a character who needs to burn off her frustrating slacker exterior, and that's how it's going to come across visually. It's the kind of thing that's fairly obvious when you know that this is going to be a boxing movie going in, although maybe less so otherwise. The willingness to go where the story leads is one of this occasionally-odd movie's charms, though.

As it starts, Ichiko Saito (Ando) is 32, a college dropout living with her parents, and not exactly doing much to help out at the family bento stand. Her sister Fumiko (Miyoko Inagawa) and nephew Taro (Ruka Wakabayashi) have also moved back in after Fumiko's divorced, and if Ichiko and Fumiko didn't get along as kids... Soon Ichiko has moved out and taken a job at the 100-yen store down the street, which has it's own odd group - fellow employee Numa (Tadashi Sakata) is a creep, former employee Ikeuchi (Toshie Negishi) is always coming by to get day-old sandwiches, and guess what "banana man" Yuji Kano (Hirofumi Arai) buys a lot of. At 38, Yuji is facing his last chance to make it as a professional boxer, but it's not necessarily shacking up with him that turns Ichiko's attention that way.

This movie can take some pretty random turns, with even some of the more direct routes not necessarily coming across as straightforward. For all that Ichiko seems like kind of a lazy lump at the beginning, seeming a lot more responsible and kind than one might expect as she starts her new job, and though she appears to learn how to box almost on a whim despite the fact that this decision comes right on the tail of her being attacked - a series of events that gives the audience all the cringe-worthy parts and then hints at a follow-up though any resolution happens off-screen. Even once she starts learning to box and has the expected training montages, things play out due to a large helping of chance and decisions that don't necessarily seem reasonable. Writer Shin Adachi never really gives Ichiko someone to confide in, or voice-over to explain her reasoning directly to the viewer, and the outside factors that affect a person's life are kept well outside the audience's view in this case.

Full review on EFC.

Sanguiwon (The Royal Tailor)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I've been looking to make a "costume drama" joke about this film ever since I first heard of it, but it initially didn't quite seem appropriate - for the first half or so, this is mainly a very funny, good-natured movie, even if the filmmakers are laying the foundations for the heavier material that will come later. In that regard, the script is fairly clever, although perhaps the last act requires the audience to be more tuned into this particular king's capriciousness than maybe I was. It's an unexpectedly entertaining film despite source material that tends to skew toward melodrama and over-seriousness.

As the film starts, the royal tailor and head of the palace's "Sanguiwon" is Cho Dol-seok (Han Suk-kyu), who is not only one of the few holdovers from the previous kings but has served nearly long enough to have a noble title conferred. It has been three years since the death of the previous monarch, so the new King (Yoo Yeon-seok) commissions a new Dragon Robe, as well as new garments for many of his ministers as the court comes out of mourning. Swamped, Dol-seok is advised by friend Dae-gil (Jo Dal-hwan) to bring on Lee Kong-jin (Ko Soo), a young and flamboyant tailor who not only crafts clothes that depart from traditional templates but becomes a confidant of the Queen (Park Shin-hye), a beauty whom the King inexplicably avoids. When the King's eyes fall upon the Defense Minister's daughter So-yi (Lee Yoo-bi), some in the cabinet see an opportunity which will entangle the tailors.

It's easy to expect the relationship between conservative Dol-suk and upstart Kong-jin to be much more contentious, but watching them quickly warm to each other is one of the film's great pleasures. The difference between them is straightforward - Dol-seok is a studious craftsman while Kong-jin is questioning and creating constantly, complementary skills that make them clearly at their best when working together. Even outside of that, they are an extraordinarily entertaining pair, with Ko Soo tremendously funny and charismatic as Kong-jin, a fellow worth rooting on even when moving in a dangerous direction. Han Suk-kyu is not quite so gregarious as Dol-seok, but he has a way of growing on the audience, not seeming as rigid as his place in the story would imply and always keeping his humble origins visible, even when he is meant to fit among the nobles. When together, there is both impressive camaraderie and contention.

Full review on EFC.


* ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

The title of Momentum is appropriate in a way the people behind the film probably don't intend; momentum, after all, is a measure of the potential energy of an object that is moving but in a passive, unguided fashion - something that generally must be harnessed and redirected. Almost everything in the film itself is momentum of a sort, in motion and capable of being used for interesting purposes but, as it is, just drifting through a bland action movie which isn't going to steer them anyplace new.

It starts out with a robbery of a Cape Town bank's safety deposit boxes, conducted by four people in voice-disguising stealth suits, although when Alex Faraday (Olga Kurylenko) stops one of her partners from killing a hostage, her mask comes off, and she has to go underground. Before she really has a chance, though, her partner and ex-boyfriend Kevin (Colin Moss) attracts even more unwanted attention, as he has stole things a U.S. Senator (Morgan Freeman) does not want getting out. So he sends cleaner "Mr. Washington" (James Purefoy), head of a presidential-themed squad, to take out everyone who might have seen the video, right down to Kevin's wife Penny (Lee-Anne Summers).

I've got two really frustrated notes on the pad that I usually just use to note character names for Momentum, one about how a car chase was terribly choppy and another frustrated at one character dropping another's backstory that we neither need nor, at the point, particularly care about into the middle of a torture scene that was already just overlong and pointless. Who cares? Why work so hard to give a reason for the heroine not being a monster when "I'm not a complete sociopath" will do? It slows what's happening "now" and doesn't really change how the audience looks at Alex afterward. It's useless unless the viewer really likes to see action movies go through the motions.

Full review on EFC.

Jönssonligan - Den perfekta stöten (The Master Plan)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2015 in the J.A. de Sève Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

More of this, please.

I've got no idea whether this reboot of Sweden's "Jönssonligan" franchise was popular enough to spawn sequels, but I want it to be. It's a neat, tight little caper movie that introduces its characters quickly, has them play out a set of linked heists with style and panache, and never forgets, even if it was a loved one's murder that kicks things off, that these adventures are supposed to be fun.

As it starts, Charles Ingvar Jonsson (Simon J. Berger) and his uncle Ralf (NIklas Falk) are in the high-end car-theft business, with Charles's meticulous planning meaning that they get away clean even when filling special orders. When Ralf spots an irresistible target of opportunity, he and Charles wind up with more than just a fancy car - there's a laptop in the back seat with a whole lot of information that ruthless banker Anna-Lena Wallentin (Andrea Edwards) doesn't want getting out. When it turns as bad as expected, Charles decides to turn the tables, but he'll need to recruit a team - con artist Ragnar Vanheden (Alexander Karim), demolitions expert Harry Berglund (Torkel Petersson), and safecracker Denise "Rocky" Ostlund (Susanne Thorson) for the heist(s) he plans.

That starts with breaking Rocky out of police custody before she can do it herself, with the jobs progressively building in scale, but all being impressively designed: There's just enough moving parts that things could be moving smoothly over here but stretching to a breaking point over there, with all four members of the "Jonsson Gang" always having a useful part to play, with no unreasonably stupidity required. Director Alain Darborg and his co-writer Piotr Marciniak both build and execute these sequences well, with a light touch and plenty of funny moments despite giving them real stakes. The in-between scenes, with planning and characters just hanging out, are snappy too, never feeling like just killing time.

Full review on EFC.

Chang-baek-han eol-gul-deul (On the White Planet)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

Hur Bum-wook's movie is told primarily in white with some gray and black highlights, but it's dark as all hell, positing a world not just where the one kid who is the only person or even thing on Earth of a non-ashen hue has already become a hardened killer by the time the film starts as he's hunted for being different, but where the whole world seems to have devolved into violence and chaos. The whole movie is populated by monsters, right down to the pedophile rapist who is part of the group he falls in with. It's not for the faint of heart, but it's got a rage one can't help but admire.

The audience learns the specifics piecemeal as the film goes on, but things are pretty simple: On a planet that looks like Earth from space but where everything is some shade of pale, one (apparently nameless) kid has what we would consider normal flesh tones, and is hunted by everyone for it, from roving backs of children his own age to agents of the government. He's a survivor, but his mind is so twisted toward violence that when he's taken in by another wanderer called "Boss", it's pretty easy for this guy to exploit him and other children for his own ends; Boss has a plan that relies on the nameless anti-hero killing a lot of people.

It's kind of too much, numbing despite the fact that one of the two impressive sequences the film opens with is horrific in its brutality. That bit where the kid kills someone and then smears the white blood on his face manages to encapsulate an idea - this kid is willing to go to monstrous lengths to fit in because he sees no other choice and knows nothing but violence. The sixty-odd minutes after that seems more like restatement than development, despite the fact that there is a story there, albeit one that eventually kind of dead-ends.

Full review on EFC.

Tales of Halloween

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

It may seem like splitting hairs, but this anthology from eleven noteworthy filmmakers working in the horror genre is much more a "Halloween" movie than "horror", if you get the distinction: It, like the holiday, is more about celebrating the annual chance to enjoy things that go bump in the night and dress up crazy more than looking to truly disturb its viewers. That's fine, and I don't know if it could be otherwise with the churn that comes from telling ten stories in 99 minutes, although one should perhaps set expectations accordingly.

After an elaborate title sequence with a spiffy new Lalo Schifrin theme (son Ryan directs a segment and introduces Adrienne Barbeau as a disc jockey that horror fans will find familiar, the film starts off with three segments built around trick-or-treating: in Dave Parker's "Sweet Tooth", little Mikey is told a scary story about another kid who wanted to eat his trick-or-treating candy before bed, but is told a local legend about another little boy (Cameron Easton) and how it is very important to share. In Darren Lynn Bousman's "The Night Billy Raised Hell", the Billy of the title (Marcus Eckert) accepts a dare to egg the house of a neighbor (Barry Bostwick), but when he's caught, the man offers to teach him what a real trick is. Then in "Trick" by Adam Gierasch, two couples play party games between rings at the doorbell, only to find that some of their visitors won't be satisfied with candy. It's a fun group that would stand well on its own despite the potential for repetition - the three share a similarly nasty sense of humor that doesn't undercut how all three are kind of spooky tales meant to teach a lesson. The three teams mix things up, though, with kids and adults sering different purposes and the emphasis jumping from gore to the joy of nasty things presented in a playful manner to something that actually feels kind of creepy. This first trio does a really great job of showing how the same jumping-off point can lead different directions, and also setting the bounds of the film's tone.

Connecting the next pair is a little less straightforward, as Paul Solet's "The Weak and the Wicked" introduces Alice (Grace Phipps), a witch-costumed young woman who has been bullying kids for some time, and James (John F. Beach), who seems intent on revenge but doesn't look capable of it; while Axelle Carolyn's "Grimm Grinning Ghost" has an older group meeting to exchange scary stories, which naturally has one on edge as her car breaks down on the way home. They both get into things that happened some time ago, though. Solet doesn't quite do the same job of holding back to hit the audience with a quality scare that Carolyn does, although he does have more nasty bits on the way.

Full review on EFC.

Ninja Torakage (The Ninja War of Torakage)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

It's not fair to say one either digs Yoshihiro Nishimura or one doesn't, because his output as a director can vary wildly even if the general style is the same - the awful Zombie TV comes from the same part of his brain as the very fun Helldriver. He often makes movies to give himself a place to put some of the crazier make-up/effects ideas he has and let some crazy action and goofy comedy rip, which isn't always going to result in great art. Ninja Torakage is actually one of his more grounded productions, and it's still kind of nutty.

It is narrated by Francisco, a "Portuguese" scholar of the ninja who really doesn't even look a bit Caucasian, who tells us of the Homura clan, at the time led by the ruthless Gensai Shinonome (Eihi Siina), who in order to get her hands on a scroll that can unlock a lost treasure kidnaps the son of Torakage (Takumi Saito), once the greatest ninja of the clan but now retired to farm with his wife Tsukikage (Yuria Haga), a fair ninja herself. Obviously, he will be seeking a chance to turn the tables, but that will be difficult between a corrupted cult, the sheer numbers Shinonome can send against him, and the lurking presense of Onimanji (Kanji Tsuda), a rival ninja whose son is practically feral.

This is the moment where I'd often wink and say "or something along those lines", but even when indulging in a fondness for weird detours, Nishimura has made something where the desire to tell a story squeaks ahead of the desire to show what kind of crazy things he can create. Surprisingly, there's relatively little really strange effects work to it - really, just one weird monster - although there is plenty of way over the top gore in the fights' aftermath. It gets bizarre at times, no question; Nishimura is the kind of filmmaker who will get an image in his head and always think "how do I create this with practical effects and makeup" rather than "how do I justify this story-wise", and so the script opens doors to the absurd while the crew behind the scenes gets busy. Fortunately, Ninja Torakage has a look that embraces its low-budget artifice, feeling about halfway between a backyard production and something polished enough to play theaters even if Nishimura is also the guy called on to do special-effects makeup for major Japanese blockbusters like Attack on Titan.

Full review on EFC.

Kurage hime (Princess Jellyfish)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Though the audience for comic books in America - and symbiotically, comic-book movies - has been growing broader in the past few years, the variety of material has lagged a bit, and we'll probably never catch up Japan, where a romance comic that involves jellyfish, dressmaking, and cross-dressing can be popular enough to continue for dozens of installments in phone-book-sized weekly anthologies and spawn both animated and live-action adaptations. As unlikely as the material may seem, it makes for a romantic comedy as entertaining as it is off-beat.

The title character is Tsukimi Kurashita (Rena Nounen), although she'd argue that her late mother was a bit off-base in declaring every girl grows up to be a princess. Today, she's an aspiring manga artist who loves jellyfish but has some pretty crippling self-image issues, living in "Amamizukan" boarding house with a handful of other girls with their own obsessions and the same nervousness around boys and confident girls that Tsukimi has. Still, she's able to summon the courage to yell at a pet-store employee who has two jellies that need different types of water in the same tank, getting supprot from the sort of tall model-type girl that typically terrifies her - and when she discovers that this girl is actually Kuranosuke Koibuchi (Masaki Suda), son of a local politician (Sei Hiraizumi) who violates the "no boys allowed" rule no matter how good he looks in heels and a miniskirt. Oh, and he's got a cute but timid half-brother, Shu (Hiromi Hasegawa), who develops a bit of a crush on Tsukimi after Kuranosuke gives her a makeover for an afternoon out.

The plot that develops - a monolithic developer with a bitchy representative (Nana Katase) planning to tear the girls' building down and Kuranosuke's plans to fight them by creating a line of jellyfish-inspired dresses - is silly but committed to with genuine sincerity. While it has its ridiculous moments, and isn't perfect in terms of giving everyone in the cast something to do, it also leads to spots that are both hilarious and uplifting. Most importantly, the filmmakers never forget that it's there as a way to make Tuskimi and Kuranosuke a team than just its own thing. It gets the movie to a pretty nice ending point, too, where there's room for more but the important work seems to be done.

Full review on EFC.

Z Airando (Deadman Inferno)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

Even the biggest zombie movies tend to be pretty simple things, and I wouldn't necessarily say Deadman Inferno (aka "Z Island") was exactly complicated. It does have a fair amount more going on than is typical for this sort of movie, and writer/director Hiroshi Shinagawa keeps that up even after others would switch to all head shots, all the time. On top of that, he goes for laughs. It's a lot of material, more than the movie really needs, but when zombie movies are a dime a dozen, it's a way to make yours memorable.

Heck, the flashback that opens the movie doesn't even involve where the zombies came from, but a battle between yakuza gangs that leaves one gangster wounded and another arrested. Ten years later, Takashi (Shingo Tsurumi) is just getting out of prison, happy to be reunited with "big brother" Hiryoya Munakata (Sho Aikawa), who now works construction with Shinya (Red Rice), another former brother. He's less happy when he finds out that his daughter Hinata (Maika Yamamoto) has run off with her friend Seira (Erina Mizuno) rather than see him. Meanwhile, the yakuza who led the ambush ten years ago, Sorimachi (Yuichi Kimura) is being teamed with Kiyama (Hideo Nakano), a glorified accountant, to hunt down Akira Yoshida (Daisuke Miyagawa), a low-level thug who stole a bunch of drugs and left for girlfriend's home of Zeni Island, where he's cutting them with unusual stuff. So, guess which island Hinata's mother Sakura (Sawa Suzuki) says she's run off to?

A little subtitling or familiarity with a setting can make a big difference - I did not initially realize that the [former] yakuza were on the Japanese mainland while other characters were on an island until the two groups of gangsters actually got on a boat. It's an example of how I think Shinagawa maybe wanted to do a little more story-wise with this movie than he really had room for: There are a lot of characters and subplots to keep track of - a couple dozen once you figure in even more yakuza, island cops, doctors, and fishermen - and while it gives Shinagawa a bunch of folks to off or turn, it takes a bit of time to get there, and he sort of handwaves the zombies with "well, that's how it happens in the movies" (this does, however, lead to one of the film's funnier lines, as the horror-movie-loving doctor wonders whether it's walkers or runners).

Full review on EFC.

Bunny the Killer Thing

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Even given some time to think on it, I'm still not really sure where I stand with Bunny the Killer Thing. There is a lot more sexual violence than usual, and that aspect of it is a tough nut to swallow, with those scenes right on the line between being a legitimate extension of horror movie violence and something that is really uncomfortable considering the tone that they were going for. I mean, there's a rape scene right in the middle of this movie that involves running from a guy in a bunny suit with a ridiculous giant prosthetic penis, and the repulsive bad taste of one pretty much cancels out the entertaining bad taste of the other.

It's a pretty straightforward slasher movie in some respects: Jari (Roope Olenius) and Emma (Katja Jaskari) have rented a cabin in the woods and are each bringing two friends - Emma's roommate Nina (Veera W. Vilo) and friend Sara (Enni Ojutkangas) along with Jari's buddies Mise (Jari Manninen) and Toumas (Hiski Hämäläinen) - while Jari's little brother Jesse (Olli Saarenpää) stows away in their borrowed ambulance. Along the way, they meet up with three Brits whose car has broken down - Lucas (Marcus Massey), Tim (Orwi Imanuel Ameh), and Vincent (Vincent Tsang) and eventually find out that they are not alone in the woods - the guy from the opening has become half-rabbit creature with an impossibly large unit, constantly screaming for "pussy!" although, really, any orifice will do.

Horror stories have been splicing human and animal genes since long before scientists discovered the double helix, and if you're going to make a human-rabbit hybrid threatening, making it a sexual predator is probably the way to go. It even makes a sort of sense to make a comedic horror story once the concept is out there, because there's a nasty absurdity to it and there's opportunity for good satire, whether of how horror movie characters come to these secluded cabins to get laid but seldom get more than they bargained for so ironically, or just of everyone's darker sexual desires. Finding the right balance and tone for raunchy material can be a paradoxically delicate task, though, and filmmaker Joonas Makkonen charges in without the sort of care needed to do so.

Full review on EFC.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


This wasn't my Plan A for the evening, but the MBTA had other ideas about me getting to the Coolidge for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - the Red Line, it was not moving very well from Alewife to Park, getting me there with no shot at taking the C line there in time. Not really one to hang around for a later start time, it was basically either this or Sinister 2 twenty minutes later, and with the batteries on both my phone and laptop pretty drained, I opted for the one that got me in, out, and back home to watch baseball quicker.

Turns out to have been a good choice - it's an incredibly warm and upbeat movie, which wasn't unexpected, but the extent to which it was true was a bit of a surprise. You kind of expect a documentary to ask questions, and this one winds up documenting things going well, something that doesn't happen very often.

Kind of weird that its upbeat nature got it paired with a couple of the upcoming religious-themed films, though. Well, maybe not weird, but Sam & Anais have a very human miracle that they don't try to force into meaning anything, which really seems to run counter to what War Room and Captive seem to be trying to sell.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 August 2015 in AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run, DCP)

I've noted before that young actresses often have to write something for themselves if they want a good part, but what about when you discover that your own life may be that good part. If you're Samantha Futerman, you start filming within a couple of days and hope that you're making what she and co-director Ryan Miyamoto eventually get: One of the happier documentaries you're likely to see.

Viewers may recall Futerman from roles in Memoirs of a Geisha and 21 and Over (or at least the trailer for the latter, where she had one of the most memorable bits), but it's a YouTube video she made with a friend that makes the friends of Anaïs Bordier take notice. Sam and Anaïs look strikingly similar, and when they discover that both were born in Busan on the same day before being adopted by families in New Jersey and Paris. Within days they're skyping and finding that the resemblance is more than skin-deep. It's enough to convince Sam - now living in Los Angeles - to visit Anaïs in London for her student fashion show in May well before the DNA test is back.

There's not a lot of suspense to that, because just look at them, and that's just fine - the utter delight they show upon discovering each other, both online and in person, is not something where the audience would want to sniff even a chance of contradiction. It's a pure joy that seems almost inexhaustible, aided in large part by how Sam and Anaïs are both cheerful, funny people full of youthful energy. It's a film built to keep a smile on a viewer's face almost constantly, and why manufacture the possibility of it being otherwise in the short term?

It's not a dull, unmodulated joy, though - Futerman makes sure to insert her own nervousness into the opening scenes, when it is really almost entirely from her perspective, but it's when Anaïs is a more active participant that things get more interesting, as the pair display very different feelings toward being adopted. For all that it is pretty easy to tell them apart from the start despite the emphasis on how much they have in common, the later parts of the film when they visit Seoul for a conference of foreign adoptees are perhaps an even richer vein of material as Sam learns to understand Anaïs more and she starts to view herself much less as unwanted rather than the lonely, often angry kid she was described as being.

Full review on EFC.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 21 August 2015 - 27 August 2015

You know how little people seem to be into the movies around back-to-school time? It's not just that the studios use them as dumping grounds for disappointments, but theaters are figuring they might as well shut down screens to remodel them. This week, the Jordan's Furniture in Reading shuts down their Imax screen in order to install laser-projection and a twelve-channel sound system, while Regal Fenway starts going down to reduced capacity in order to put in bigger, reclining seats (and probably also go to reserved seating and reduce capacity)

  • Three movies open wide anyway, though, with Sinister 2 playing at Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway (including a couple of shows per day on the RPX screen), Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere. It looks like another family is moving into that cursed house, this one headed up by Shannyn Sossamon. The first was a pretty darn good horror movie, and the second keeps the same writers and Ciaran Foy in the director's chair; he made the pretty tense Citadel.

    The other big opening is American Ultra, which features Jesse Eisenberg as an amiable stoner who was apparently a highly-trained assassin before his brain was fried. Fun cast between Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, and Walter Goggins. It plays the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. Speaking of highly-trained assassins, Hitman: Agent 47 opens at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere; it's another go at a popular video game franchise, and, man, if they couldn't make it work with Timothy Olyphant, what chance does Rupert Friend have? On the other hand, it's a chance for people who don't regularly watch Chinese movies to put eyes on Angelababy and her silly stage name.

    With a fair number of screens to fill, Boston Common also picks up some independent films: Twinsters is a documentary about twins who were given up for adoption, ended up in France and California, and discovered each other online. That gets a full schedule (as does the held-over Go Away Mr. Tumor), while Some Kind of Beautiful (also known as "How to Make Love Like an Englishman") just has 1pm and 8pm shows, with Pierce Brosnan as a poetry professor who fathered a child with a younger woman (Jessica Alba) who leaves him and sends her sister (Salma Hayek) to check up on her son. That's a pretty nice cast and the director made Starter for 10, so it might be worth checking out.
  • The Somerville Theatre brings back Call Me Lucky, which had a great screening there as part of IFFBoston. It's Bobcat Goldthwait's documentary on Barry Crimmins, a comedian who was sharply political before it was fashionable and whose revelation in the middle of a set in the 1990s is devastating. It's hilarious and tragic, and I don't know if anyone but Bobcat could have made it. It pushes Ricki and the Flash to The Capitol , and is only scheduled for a week.

    On the big screen, they wrap up the last two of their summer series: The Saturday midnight is Repo: The Genetic Opera, which is at least genuinely weird; the last of the Sam Peckinpah series is the rarely-screened Cross of Iron, as this is apparently the only print in America and Dave says that it can be tough to come by.
  • The The Coolidge Corner Theatre is one of the places opening Mistress America (along with Kendall Square and Boston Common), Noah Baumbach's latest which features Lola Kirke as a college freshman abuot to have Greta Gerwig as a stepsister. They also get one about a slightly younger protagonist, Diary of a Teenage Girl, with Bel Powley as the title character with a crush on her stepfather. It's also at Kendall Square and the Embassy.

    The midnight show on Friday and Saturday is 1978's Superman: The Movie, on 35mm as Richard Donner intended. They also double up on fun Steven Spielberg movies, with Indiana Jones and the Temmple of Doom as the Big Screen Classic on Monday and Jurassic Park their first "Rewind!" presentation on Thursday.
  • The third film opening at Kendall Square this weekend was one of the niftier ones I saw at Fantasia, Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, an animated adaptation of the famed book which has a decent framing sequence around eight pretty spectacular adaptations of individual poems from animators like Nina Paley, Bill Plympton, Tomm Moore, and Joann Sfar.
  • The Brattle Theatre continues their H.P. Lovecraft 125th Birthday Celebration this weekend with a bunch of good stuff that may only be tangentially related but is pretty good and almost all on 35mm. Friday has two fairly direct adaptations, with John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness and a late show of Stuart Gordon's From Beyond with Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton. Saturday's double feature draws clear inspiration with Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy and Carpenter's The Thing, while Sunday's has a Hammer-esque adaptation in The Crimson Cult and a contemporaneous descendent in The Dunwich Horror. Monday night, Corman's X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes plays back-to-back with Takashi Shimizu's Marebito (on digital rather than film, but it was that way during its original run, too).

    The rest of the repatory program is starting to wind down, with Saturday night's Zardoz being the last "Reel Weird Brattle: Camp Sci-Fi Camp" show of the summer; the website says DCP although the Brattle's social media accounts have mentioned 35mm. Film is the plan for "Screwball Summer" double feature Christmas in July & The Great McGinty (Monday matinees and all day Tuesday), and at least the back half of the "Recent Raves" double feature of Timbuktu & About Elly on Wednesday. They even appear to be getting film for Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia as part of the retrospective program running on Thursday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive continues their Sam Fuller retrospective with two war films - The Steel Helmet (Friday 7pm), his first, and 1980's The Big Red One (Saturday 7pm), both on 35mm, and a repeat screening of daughter Samantha Fuller's documentary A Fuller Life (DCP). The Friday night Titanus Studios presentation is "pink neorealist" film La Spiaggia. The week's Robert Altman films are feature debut The Delinquents (Sunday 5pm, DCP, with short "The Perfect Crime"), The Gingerbread Man (Monday 7pm), and Basements (Thursday 7pm).
  • The Museum of Fine Arts wraps The Films of Ingrid Bergman this week with Murder on the Orient Express (Friday), Autumn Sonata (Friday & Sunday on 35mm), Saratoga Trunk and (Saturday & Thursday). As that comes to a close, they begin a run of We Come as Friends, a documentary by Hubert Sauper about the Sudan, a country being divided in two.
  • The West Newton Cinema picks up Phoenix and Listen to Me Marlon.
  • It looks like the only new Indian movie opening at Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond is Kick 2, and that's in Telugu. I seem to remember an earlier "Kick" being subtitled, but that might have been a Hindi version.
  • Free outdoor screenings listed on Joe's Calendar include multiple screenings of Guardians of the Galaxy, Stop Making Sense at the Aeronaut Brewery, and one of the most enjoyable events of the year, the Asian Community Development Center's Films at the Gate, which kicks off on Thursday with a block party at the vacant lot where the event got its start, followed by 9-Man, a nifty documentary about a game of volleyball played exclusively in Chinese-American neighborhoods, including Boston's Chinatown, so you could conceivably see some of the subjects there.

I've actually been invited to the pre-fest reception, which is nuts to me, as a white guy with little connection to Chinatown aside from visiting for this event. In the meantime, I figure to see Sinister 2, Some Kind of Beautiful, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Cross of Iron, and Mr. Holmes. Hellboy and The Big Red One are also tempting.

Fantasia Catch-up #01: Bridgend, Cruel, Assassination Classroom, Cooties, Teana: 10000 Years Later, Black & White: The Dawn of Justice, The Shamer's Daughter, Extinction, Deathgasm

Remember, folks, as long as we keep Fantasia in our hearts, it can last all year round! Or, at least, for another month or so, if you watched nearly ninety movies in just over three weeks and had no time to write up the full reviews that justify your press pass during the festival.

This was an early weekend punt of sorts - full days of movies on Friday and Saturday and at it early on Saturday and Sunday just doesn't leave a lot of time to get things done. There's some good stuff in there, though - I think I marrked Black & White: The Dawn of Justice on my ballot for "Best Action Movie", while Bridgend stuck with me. I want to know what my teacher friends/family think of Cooties when it comes out, and Deathgasm is something a lot of people will love.

And now, to jump four days closer to the present to look at 100 Yen Love...


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2015 in the J.A. de Séve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

There's a moment early in Bridgend when the main character's father, a policeman just transferred back to the title city after having spent about ten years in Bristol, is shown the wall of the at-that-point twenty-three teenage suicides that have happened in the past few years. He stares at it like there's something he can do, a mystery to solve, but it's suicide, not a serial killer; there's little folks like him can do but try and pick up the pieces.

That's what makes Bridgend - inserting fictional characters into a situation that actually has plagued the namesake town in Wales - genuinely disturbing: Young people who end it all can seem to be outside the capability of mentally-healthy people to understand, but there are hints that they're not so far outside the mainstream as we might think. After all, if the very happy-seeming Sara can get pulled into this situation, seemingly anybody can. There's a twisted culture of no hope and no leaving, and what other way out is there?

Sara (Hanna Hurray) and Dave (Steven Waddington) lived there before, once upon a time, and when they return, she makes friends easily enough - Thomas (Scott Arthur) remembers her from when they were kids, his girlfriend Laurel (Elinor Crawley) is curious about Sara's horse, and the vicar's son Jamie (Josh O'Connor) seems to take a fancy to her. Just hanging out turns into visiting the sites where friends died, memorializing them, and acting out.

Full review on EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2015 in the J.A. de Séve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The almost-banal serial killer isn't quite a staple of crime fiction but it's not exactly uncommon, either, likely in part because the challenge of creating a character who is simultaneously unremarkable and monstrous is fascinating to writers and filmmakers, even if it often only appeals to a relatively specialized audience. That's the case with Cruel - it's admirable and intriguing, although the story can be a tough nut to crack and swallow.

The killer in this case is Pierre Tardieu (Jean-Jacques Lelté), a nondescript man of no fixed occupation in Toulouse who has killed a great many victims over the years because he is invisible enough to stalk his prey without being remembered before abducting them and keeping them in a hidden basement for weeks or months, then disposing of the bodies in a way that suggests unrelated disappearances. Recently, though, a couple of things have changed: He has included a number of ID cards with his latest victim, alerting the police to a long-active serial killer in their midst, and the owner of a stationery shop where Tardieu has been buying notebooks since he was a kid introduces him to Laure Ouari (Magali Moreau), a music teacher who appears to stir actual affection in him.

Jean-Jacques Lelté has relatively few screen credits, which is the sort of thing that may help his performance as Pierre; he's a blank slate onto which it is difficult to impose familiar characteristics or motive, and the sparse details among the relative blankness that Lelté and writer/director Eric Cherrière create draws the audience in even more. Lelté plays him as a sort of everyman with just the tiniest bit of exaggeration around the edges in most cases, although his detached and asocial nature is noticeable. Sometimes it just comes off as being bored, though - especially noticeable in contrast to the sense of humor that starts to emerge when the police finally start to suspect him of a crime. He's also got a nice chemistry with Magali Moreau, who makes Laure seem a little more tentative than she actually is.

Full review on EFC.

Ansatsu Kyoshitsu (Assassination Classroom)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2015 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Next time I'm in the comic shop, I'm going to have to give the Assassination Classroom manga a look to see what the average chapter length is; even if it's something like 16 pages, I'll bet they're decompressed and some of the best bits are probably four-panel half-pagers. At least, that's what one might expect based upon the movie, which jumps between short episodes and gags so quickly that it feels scattered and never really coalesces as a story that makes sense.

The story it has involves Kunugigaoka Junior High School class 3-E - openly described as the dregs of the school (and roughly equivalent to Grade 9 in North America) - being moved to a separate, run-down building,where they are given a highly unusual home room teacher: A yellow alien (voice of Kanna Hashimoto) with beady little eyes, a gigantic grin, tentacles, and the ability to fly, regenerate, and move at roughly Mach 20. He has already destroyed half the moon and threatened to do the same to the Earth, but to be sporting, he's offered to teach a class of kids how to kill him and give them until the end of the academic year to do it. Somehow outfitted with powerful guns and explosives that will not do lasting harm to human beings, the students - including underachiever Nagisa Shiota (Ryosuke Yamada), and the quite intelligent but combative transfer student Karma Akabane (Masaki Suda), along with oddities like STAR the "Self-Thinking Artillery Robot" - begin each day with a gunfight in hope of scoring a ten billion yen reward. Their teachers include Ministry of Defense representative Tadaomi Karasuma (Kippei Shiina) and Irina Jelavic (Kang Ji-young), who has gone from KGB assassin to high-school English teacher.

That's just a handful of the characters in the movie - it's a classroom of about 25 or 30 students who are all name-checked and given something to do over the course of the film. Whether out of necessity or because it's following the source material, the movie winds up being very episodic, with ten minute bits that sometimes revolve around plans to out take "UT" (for "unkillable teacher") and sometimes make a conventional situation strange by dropping the likes of a smiling tentacle monster and a massive killer robot with the personality of a cheerful schoolgirl into them. The good news is, those bits are funny; between the original manga by Yusei Matsui, the script by Tatsuya Kanazawa, and the direction of Eiichiro Hasumi, they're not just absurd but fast-paced, getting to the punchline well before the gag is beaten into the ground. There's generally at least one good-sized laugh in every set-up, which isn't bad at all.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2015 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Allison Pill is carving out a weird niche in terms of sweet elementary school teachers who turn oddly violent between this and Snowpiercer, isn't she? Granted, she's entirely justified here, as anybody in this movie describing kids as "little monsters" would be entirely on point. It's a demented, violent, fiercely funny horror-comedy, and probably more fun than many in that genre because just letting loose on kids actually feels a bit transgressive.

Before getting to that, it's a different sort of horror, with stalled-out writer Clint (Elijah Wood) starting his first day as a substitute teacher in his old elementary school after not making it big in New York and moving back in with his parents. On the one hand, his high-school crush Lucy (Pill) is also a teacher there; on the other, she's dating fellow faculty member Wade (Rainn Wilson), the sort of redneck bully that used to make Clint's life hell. It's not a great day, and that's before some tainted chicken nuggets from a local supplier are served during school lunch, and after the kids eat them... Well, aim for the head.

Tone is everything in a thing like this; as much as I've grown tired of how The Walking Dead often seems to rely on murdering children when it needs to cynically pack an extra punch in a finale episode, this film's makers approach the idea with glee after acknowledging that, yes, this is horrible. It's fun because, in many ways, these fast-zombie kids are the distillation of all the worst things about the worst children - they don't listen, they launch at each other over nothing, they bite, they run and run and run when you're trying to keep track of them, and they get into everything. Cooper Roth plays patient zero - an especially obnoxious brat by the name of "Patriot" (his parents clearly deserve some blame), and between how he establishes himself in the earlier stretches and the willingness of directors Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion to let their zombies have a little personality, he almost feels like he's talking back even when growling while covered in fake blood.

Full review on EFC.

Yi wan nian yi hou (Teana: 10000 Years Later)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP w/ XPand 3D)

Director Yi Li and his crew worked for seven years on Teana: 10000 Years Later, and its looking kind of rough in spots goes to show how crazy the resources Hollywood has at its disposal are and how developed its tools are. The character animation and motion is a very clear step down from American digitally-animated features, and the story seems all over the place, although that might be less familiarity with Chinese legends on my part and a disappointing dub.

It takes place, as you might figure, ten thousand years after the fall of the old world (presumably ours), with its future Tibet populated by various human tribes and animal people. We meet several groups through Arion, a wandering member of the Ballad Tribe who, along with his granddaughter Joma, keeps the history and legends of the last millennia current. One of the main ones is that of Devil Wu, who sought to harness the power of the old world but was imprisoned in another dimension by the goddess Kelseng - although unbeknownst to Arion and everyone else, Wu is on the brink of escape and has the capability to decimate any tribes that oppose him and enslave the rest.

The version screened was dubbed into English and not particularly well, and that sort of thing tends to emphasize how the facial "acting" of the animation is not exactly state of the art. Digital animation is more like puppetry than making a flipbook, with Teana being decent marionettes compared to Pixar's highly-articulated animatronic robots with sophisticated AI to control crowds: They look pretty good most of the time, and when the final action scenes come, it's pretty clear that the production sprung for some motion capture and the guy performing the zebra warrior knows his martial arts.

Full review on EFC.

Pi Zi Ying Xiong 2 (Black & White: The Dawn of Justice)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

It feels like it's been a while since I've seen an action movie as dedicated to being thoroughly nuts as Black & White: Dawn of Justice, a sequel that, from what I gather, goes all-out in topping its predecessor by staging one big action scene on top of another, making the stakes as high as possible, and adding a couple extra dashes of personal melodrama into the final act just to make absolutely damn sure that the audience is invested. Even without seeing the first Black & White, action/adventure fans should have a blast.

Wu Ying-hsiung (Mark Chao) became famous for rescuing the hostages on an airplane last time around, although he's the sort of movie cop that creates a lot of paperwork for his superior officers, even when he's not trying, like this morning, when his commute brings him right through a group of highly-trained soldiers of fortune attacking a military convoy. Also arriving at the scene is Chen Zhen (Kenny Lin Genxin), and up-and-coming detective from the Eastern Substation, and they've just begun to team up when, at 10am, a number of bombs attached to wanted criminals explode, sealing off all the bridges and tunnels. Though Ying is still in contact with the people from his division - forensics expert Lan Xi-ying (Janine Chang Chung-ning), uniformed officer Green, and ironically-named computer expert Hulk. They soon discover that one of the suicide bombers is Xu Da-fu (Huang Bo), whom Ying allowed to escape for his help before, and when a lead brings them to a military facility that the elite "Blackhawks" unit is raiding... Well, this is going to be a busy day for Ying, Chen, and Da-fu, and one the entire city will remember if the mastermind behind it has his way.

What are his plans for the city? Well, a little of everything; as Ying and Chen are put through their paces, suicide bombers and hostage situations are only the start of it; despite being the sequel to a hit movie (itself a follow-up to a popular television series), writer/director Tsai Yue-xun throws everything but the kitchen sink in like he'll never get to make another action movie, let alone entry in this series, and apparently casts himself as the villainous mastermind to boot. Just when it seems like Tsai has peaked, he escalates, eventually showing a sort of gleeful disinterest in making an action extravaganza where the mayhem is contained so as not to affect civilians. It's not hard to believe that he might be the guy who pushes a buddy cop movie all the way to something apocalyptic. It's bonkers, but it's a lot of fun.

Full review on EFC.

Skammerens Datter (The Shamer's Daughter)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The concept behind Lene Kaaberbøl's "Shamer Chronicles" book series is an interesting one, positing a woman and her daughter with the ability to look into a person's soul and pull out what they are ashamed of. What kinds of problems can you solve with weaponized guilt? How does that play in a situation where people can do horrible things without feeling shame? At the very least, it makes for a tale of swords and (some) sorcery that's different enough to be interesting.

Of course, people don't really like Shamers, forcing Melussina (Maria Bonnevie) and her similarly-gifted daughter Dina (Rebecca Emilie Sattrup) to live on the outskirts of their village and are often taunted as witches. But when the king and queen are the kingdom Dunark are murdered and Crown Prince Nicodemus (Jakob Oftebro) stands accused, Mesire Drakhan (Peter Plaugborg), his Weapons Master (Søren Malling), and the rest of the court need to be really sure, sending for Melussina and, later, Dina. When somebody doesn't like the answers the Shamers give, Melussina is scheduled for public execution - which, in Dunark, involves the dragons kept in the dungeon - and Dina winds up on the run, with few allies beyond street girl Rosa (Petra Maria Scott) to help free her mother and bring the king's killer to justice.

As clever as the premise Kaaberbøl came up with (and Anders Thomas Jensen adapted for director Kenneth Kainz), the film version of The Shamer's Daughter, at least, can't help but expose its weakness, especially around the climax, as in a medieval setting where the Shamers can be easily ignored or executed as traitors. It backs itself into a pretty bad corner, especially when one considers that it's presumably trying to tell its young-adult audience that the gifts for which they're taunted make them powerful and that living life without reason for shame is the best path. That doesn't set up a sequel very well, though.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Extinction starts off problematically, with a prologue that involves three people doing what seems like the same dumb thing in a row, leading to nearly everybody getting killed by zombies. It's the sort of thing that has the audience bracing for a tidal wave of stupidity, especially when the bulk of the movie winds up being two people living in their old houses but not talking until nine years later. Surprisingly, though, the center of the movie works pretty well.

One of those people is Jack (Jeffrey Donovan), trying to raise a daughter after the zombie apocalypse (which seems to have triggered a mini-ice age for good measure). Monsters haven't been seen for a while, but he's still naturally worried about keeping Lu (Quinn McColgan) safe, including from Patrick (Matthew Fox), the neighbor he considers deeply untrustworthy. Lu, as it turns out, is a bright and curious kid, sneaking out to pet Patrick's dog by the fences. Both Jack and Patrick have been raiding nearby houses and shops and now have to go further out, in their forays, where they find that the cold hasn't necessarily killed the zombies off.

Most movies in the genre will make sure that something undead shows up every fifteen minutes or so, but the filmmakers hold back here, implying that the men are prisoners of their own fear as they are defending themselves against a threat. There's a nifty sort of tension in this center even though not a lot is really happening; the audience gets to mull over the isolation of the situation and the way others react: Jack seems to have purpose in bringing up Lu while Patrick has unraveled, and Lu is a kid despite her situation. There's a bitter note to her seeming healthy development as the audience wonders about it being pointless, but its not overpowering.

Full review on EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I skipped Deathgasm at Independent Film Festival Boston figuring it would play Fantasia while other things on the IFFBoston schedule might not otherwise play theaters, and the gambit payed off. Not just because the movie played, but because I don't know if the crowd would have been quite so metal in Boston, although who knows; that festival brings out its music fans. The point is, Deathgasm is a movie that plays to its audience and better with one, so keep that in mind.

For a raucous thing, it starts with a downer, as nice-enough teenager Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) is orphaned, and winds up sent to a small town to live with his very religious aunt and uncle. There's a record store in town, though, which introduces him to heavy metal, and where he meets Zakk (James Blake), the town's other metalhead. Soon he's got a major crush on school beauty Medina (Kimberly Crossman), whom Zakk points out is way out of his league, while they start a band with fantasy geeks Dion (Sam Berkley) and Giles (Daniel Cresswell). When Brodie & Zakk find out that a metal legend is living incognito nearby, they go to his house and find the door open, and while they're chased out, Zakk has made off with a piece of sheet music that, when played, apparently can actually raise demons, and while these guys hate their town, they didn't mean to destroy it!

Writer/director Jason Lei Howden does nothing to hide that he is playing on parental fears of Satanism, especially back in the 1980s, with a big part of the gag here being that this movie is a demonstration of how absurd the idea that heavy metal music (or the Dungeons & Dragons that is the other band members' real passion) really can call forth the Devil's armies. Howden has great fun poking at the details of these beliefs, right down to how apparently the ony way to put the things this music did right is by playing it backwards. It's clever, and I suspect that a lot of the bits of the plot the seemed like outside characters tacked on for length would have been much funnier if I knew more about the "Satanic Panic" of the 1980s, especially how it manifested in the filmmakers' native New Zealand.

Full review on EFC.